Honoring my Mom, January 20, 2019

Sonny Robinson

     I want to honor my mother.

     For a 5’ 5” small framed woman who never weighed more than 106 pounds, she was strong and purposeful. I realized the moment she died how much her strength has been the foundation of my life.

     I want to tell you the major themes in her life so you can hear my appreciation of her. The key points of what I am going to tell you I had the opportunity to share with her before she passed. I feel blessed by those conversations.

     The main points I want to share is about her strong character, her values, how she changed for the greater good the trajectory of the family dynamics she inherited, and how she was a happy and sunny person, just like her name.

     My Mom was the 5th and last child in her family. My grandmother divorced around her birth. My mother was eager to grow up like her older siblings and she wanted to be helpful to her mother. At 10 years old she started working the phones in my grandmother’s business. The Leonard/Horwitz family had independent, entrepreneurial women before it was fashionable. Soon my mother was so competent with phones she was given greater responsibility and her competence allowed my grandmother to go on vacation and attend dance competitions.

     My mother came of age during WW2 when all the good men her age were at war.  She didn’t know much about men because she was raised without a father and her brothers were sweet guys but not a guideline for choosing a husband. She married a man her friend introduced her to. After 5 years and finally a baby, she left with her child (that’s me) and went home to live with her mother.

     My mom and I shared a bedroom together for 8 years. She worked in the daytime and went to school for accounting at night. She had wanted to be a doctor but was told she was too weak. She had been a sickly child and missed a lot of school spending the winter in Florida where her MD told her mother to take her where it was warm.

    Sometimes my Mom would misspeak in our conversations and call my grandmother my Mom. We were like sisters in those years and my Grandma was a mother figure to me.  Later my Mom would re-marry and our lives would change dramatically. My mom was very concerned in the last weeks of her life about whether she was a good mom to me. If she had asked that question in my 30s, even 40s, I might have had a different answer. What has become so clear to me in recent time, I was happy to share with her and I want you to know the same.

     My mother had the courage to leave a bad marriage and grow herself. Now, I am not a friend of divorce, but some divorces are necessary. If she were telling you her story today, it would all be about her journey that led her to meet her true partner and the wonderful life they shared together. She would tell that story regularly. It was her foundational story. She and my step father, he is really my father, created a new life together.  I found myself outside of that, but watching a wonderful marriage.

     As my mother took the helm of her newly formed family, she was friendly, upbeat, but very structured with rules and chores and I was no longer in the inner circle. She was very protective about what I did on one hand, but I was free with a lot of space and time alone with myself. She was tough with me, and at the same time, always believing I could accomplish whatever I set out to accomplish. She could get mad at me, but I also noticed she didn’t behave that way with my Dad. She was always respectful, they would talk things over. They were a beautiful couple. I admired them.

     I eventually noticed that having happy parents freed me to become independent. I never had to worry about them.  I knew they were happy together. My Mom always had her opinions however. That is partly why in many chapters of our lives together, I kept my distance. When I was 20 y/o my Mom felt that Michael and I should get married if we were going to be very close in our relationship.  So we got engaged. Then my mother was furious because she felt we were too young and she offered me a trip to Europe to distract me. Actually, my mother was correct, Michael and I were too young but we found a way to grow up together.

     If it wasn’t for the fact that I saw a good marriage, I would never have known to persevere to accomplish that. Michael and I could easily have separated when I began to see things differently from him in my 30s. It took years to become a truly respectful partnership with Michael. I remember a night when my mother was visiting when Michael and I were in the midst of a fight.  She sat down at the table with us and silently listened to our conversation, just by her presence, helping us hear each other so we could resolve the issue. My Mom loved us, wanted good for us, wanted good for me always.

     She shared with me days before she died, that she always had wanted to be a good person. When she said it, it sounded like the female version of Dennis Prager. She knew the value of goodness. My Mom and Dad would talk about goodness all the time to me. My Dad told me he loved my mother for her goodness, and that is what I should look for in a man. Yes, they were both good people. My mother knew all about people who don’t make good choices. Her family was riddled with those people. Her sister married such a man. Her 1st husband was irresponsible and immature and choosing such a man is not unexpected when you grow up without a father. She taught me the world is made up of people who make good and bad choices and I need to pay attention to character, my own and others.  Huge and valuable wisdom I learned from my Mom.

     So if you asked me when I was in my 30s, I would have told you I was a lonely kid, my mother was tough. If I told you her rules, it would not sound like 2019. I still make the bed the first thing when I wake up in the morning. I still push my chair back under the table when I am finished.  It cost me 25 cents when I didn’t push my chair back. I was called back to the kitchen if I didn’t clean the kitchen sink drain after I emptied the dishes. I had to pay for the dishes I broke when I emptied the dishwasher. She and my Dad taught me to be respectful in speech to adults. The list of rules went on and on.

     My mother made me conscientious. That taught me the value of complete work. She taught me to tell the truth and be accountable. She taught me to always do my best. She taught me how to choose a good partner. She gave me the space and the freedom to find my purpose in life. She didn’t have any problem with me studying philosophy, psychology and theology. She was a numbers person so I went far away from her interests. She allowed me to be an individual. She was always proud of me.

     I believe my mother changed the course of our family. I feel blessed by my marriage to Michael, and my daughters have married good men and have sweet families. This made my mother very happy.

     I believe this is her legacy. I told her so and it made her very happy to hear me say that. I told her in the last days of her life as I held her hand and looked into her eyes that she has been the perfect mother for me and I am so grateful she gave me life.  Jordan Peterson says that a good mother is not a parent who dotes on their children and gives them everything. A good Mom in a sense has to fail her children so that they become willing to take responsibility and create their own lives.

     There is forgiveness in this point of view for I too know the humility of falling short as a parent.  At 68 years old, I can say that my Mom was a perfect parent for me. She taught me values; she gave me a compass; she was tough with me and taught me to be tough with myself so that I had the will to become competent in my life pursuits; and she gave me the space to create my own life journey.

     I stand here today so grateful for my Mom. I am happy to say I was able to tell her these things in the last week of her life.  In the last months of her life she became softer and softer. Our conversations were lovely. This was not the Mom who raised me.

     The Mom who raised me was a practical thinker, a doer, a successful accountant/bookkeeper, a woman involved in local politics both in New York and California; she was also involved in Mission Hospital’s Valiant Women that supports the continuous improvement of the hospital.

    Throughout my life, my Mom was tough. She told me several times she was tough because she saw her sister raise her girls who are 10 years older than me and she didn’t like what she saw. They weren’t very distinguished girls in purpose or character. So she realized what she had to do to be a Mom.

     It means so much to me that you are all here to honor my Mom.

Barbara Grossman


Sonia Robinson funeral born 4-26- 1923, passed on January 18, 2019

Before I talk about my dear mother-in-law Sonja Robinson, I want to deeply thank you all for coming to pay your respects to support Barbara in this difficult transition. When my mother passed away 11 years ago I was surprised how deeply moved I was feel support of friends and to feel the support of the community. God’s presence comes through each one of you today to support Barbara. And to uplift the soul of Sonia Robinson And I thank you.

Sonia Robinson was born last of four siblings. Was very sickly as a child with multiple infections probably mastoid-itis and was sent as a child by her doctor to Florida. But underneath that sickly week body was an extraordinarily strong individual. She outlived all of her siblings by many years.

Strong women were regular occurrence in Sonny’s lineage. Her Mom(Barbara’s grandmother Francis)  was married to a medical doctor. When he asked Sonny’s mom to have an abortion when Sonny got conceived, The Grandmother Francis divorced her husband and raised Sonny on her own. Francis opened up her own nursing directory in Philadelphia. The first nursing directory to hire black nurses.

Sonny was a regular worker since she was 10 y o in the nurses directory and lived in the home that housed nurses. Later in life she took over the nurses directory when her mother passed on.

Sonny’s first marriage right after World War II lasted five years. Sonny left her husband with her two month old daughter Barbara and she returned to her mother’s home and worked part time, got a degree in bookkeeping and raised Barbara with the help of her mother.

When Barbara was eight, Sonny went to New Hampshire to a hotel for Jewish singles and met her husband to be, Murray. Murray was enamored with Sonny’s maturity,  goodness and her elegance. They got engaged two weeks later.and Maried 3 months later.

Sonny and Murray lived in Queens New York.  and in the first eight years of their marriage Sonny had a severe chronic kidney infection from a kidney stone that disabled her and only years later the stone moved to a place where they could operate  and she regained her health. Lithotripsy ultrasonic pulverizing back then was not an option. After she recovered, she went to work as a bookkeeper for a variety of organizations and businesses. One business in particular, the art Gallery business with Bob Feldman, was so enamored with her business abilities they hired her full-time Rick therefore about 20 years.

When I called Bob Feldman to tell him of Sonny’s passing, his thoughts were Sonny’s an extraordinary woman who was the key person running and making my business successful, she kept track of everything  and was the foundation of my multimillion dollar business of collecting and selling  paintings. If you come to sonny’s home you will see many of the beautiful pieces of artwork a part of this painting collection. Such a match for Sonny’s personality, so elegant.

Sonny and Murray moved to California about 1992 to be near our family. Sonny took her oldest child Karen aged 12, on a trip to Europe England to show her elegant and practical approach to travel. She did same for Lissa 1 year later. Ask the kids how that affected them, but they both now love to travel.

After she moved to California, Sonny saw that I had a great difficulty running my medical office without people stealing from me. She asked if she could come in the office and help. And then for approximately 10 years she ran my business, paid to bills, paid staff and made sure no one was stealing money. She was a real key person in managing my office. She left when Murray began developing Alzheimer’s to be with him.

Sonny had a variety of health issues over the years multiple fractures, including three hip fractions, multiple surgeries for hernia, breast cancer, hospitalizations for irregular heartbeats, kidney stones and many other things. She never complained, never said why is all this happening to me, I don’t deserve it, this is too much. She was so stoic and just did what was necessary to those issues with a smile and grateful attitude towards her doctors and helpers.

Sonny was a supportive of mission hospital and was a founding member of the valiant women group. She supported a variety of good causes including Chabad Mission Viejo. For her doing the right thing and being scrupulously honest was essential.

Sonny’s strength was seen in her desire to run her own finances and take care of her husband. She liked doing things herself. She didn’t want help from her children and she resisted anyone taking over her finances even when her memory failing to take care of details. Only in the last 2 years of her life she reluctantly allowed Barbara to pay her bills and take over the finance. But Sonny still wanted to check that every was done properly. This inner strength was quintessentially Sonny.

After her third hip fracture, Sonny Was not happy with me when I recommended that she needed elevator to get up to the second floor,  but I insisted. A year later she thanked me profusely and repeatedly for this as she had difficulty climbing stairs.

However the most remarkable thing about Sonny was a relationship with her husband Murray. Being married over 50 years and never having an argument seems storybook. How can you take someone as strong and stubborn as Sonny and put her into a relationship of marriage with Murray who was very capable and strong minded  and not have an argument?

But when you with them together you see how they did that. If Murray felt strongly about something Sonny would be quiet and just let him have his mild irritability about it and that’s the way it went, no argument. If Sonny was irritable about something and wanted things be Certain Way, Murray would say okay and that’s the way it was, no argument. They put each other first in all situations.

It is quite a model to live up to. Barbara would like for me to live up to that model, but I struggled to do that at times.

 They were extremely in love and appreciative of each other. Anyone who knew them was aware of that.

Sonny was Murray’s support and caretaker when he developed his Alzheimer’s in 2002. She would stay with him almost all day on going for 15 years and just love being with him even though he would not remember from minute to minute.

When Murray passed away two years ago, her grandchildren and went through the boxes of her personal pictures and created picture posters with all of Murray’s pictures with him and the family.  Sonny Of course complained what right children have to go through her personal pictures disrupting the order in the house. However,  once Sonny saw the poster board pictures all around her living room,  this gave her great peace and had a feeling almost like Murray was still there.  In The last two years, she constantly thanked me for those comforting pictures.

In the last month Sonny’s life she was aware that she was dying of cancer, but she didn’t dwell on that. Rather she was so fulfilled when her grandchildren and great-grandchildren all came and visited with her. She was beaming and fulfilled by what she created this physical plane:  

The last month of her life conversations with Barbara were mostly daily. Barbara will share some of them with you. Sonny was so grateful for her life for her children, grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren… She was awestruck at how her life brought her so many blessings.

In the days before she passed away, she frequently would talk with Murray and her mother and her sister and then come back and talk to Barbara and her helpers very cogently. Sonny would often point to a door or window and ask Nancy to let them in. Nancy one of her caregivers  will tell you when Sonny was talking with Murray she could see a light in the room. On the last evening of her life Sonny asked  to have the light turned of in the kitchen as she wanted to go to sleep. Nancy said “there is no light on.”  Sonny pointed and insisted she turn of the light so she could sleep.  Nancy said “she would there try,” but there was no light on.

It was clear she was to leave us very soon and she did, easily without much of a fuss. In a period of a few hours she moved from being awake and alert to running a fever and then passed on this physical plane never complaining.

Michael Grossman

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